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King Oedipus

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The play opens in front of the Theban palace. Oedipus, the king of Thebes, asks a passing priest why he and his followers are lamenting and praying. The priest replies that they pray to the gods to end the plague that has beset Thebes. This plague has wasted the city's crops and pastures and rendered all Theban women sterile. The priest begs for Oedipus's help. Oedipus tells the priest that he feels the city's pain, and that he has sent his brother-in-law, Creon, to the Pythian oracle of Apollo to ask for help.

Creon appears, bearing good news. The oracle told him that the plague on Thebes was caused by the murder of Laius, the previous king of Thebes. The murderer was born in Thebes and still lives there, and if they can find him and banish him, the plague will be lifted. Oedipus asks Creon about the details of Laius's death. Creon tells him that Laius was killed as he left Thebes on a pilgrimage. There was only one surviving eyewitness, a man who said that the king was killed by a band of robbers. Oedipus asks why the matter was not fully investigated, and Creon tells him that the city's problems with the Sphinx demanded attention at that point. Oedipus swears that he will solve this mystery, not merely for Laius's sake, but for his own, since Laius's killer might attack him next. He summons all the people of Thebes.

The Chorus of Theban elders appears, expressing a sense of foreboding about what Oedipus might find. The Chorus describes again the plague that has stricken the city and calls on the gods to help the city. Oedipus enters from the palace and asks the people of Thebes to help him find Laius's killer; if any of them has any information that would help him, he orders them to come forward. There is silence. He declares that if the killer is among them and will give himself up, his punishment will merely be banishment. Still the people are silent. Oedipus tells them that any information that could help will be rewarded. Still silence, and Oedipus declares that if any men are found to be hiding the truth from him, they too will be banished. Nor does Oedipus exempt himself from the punishment he has just declared; if he unknowingly harbors the killer, he will leave Thebes himself. The Chorus finally speaks up, suggesting that Oedipus consult the man closest to Apollo: Teiresias the blind prophet. Oedipus agrees with their suggestion and reveals that he has already sent for Teiresias upon Creon's advice.

Teiresias enters, led by an attendant. Oedipus informs him of the oracle's statements and begs him to help find the killer. Teiresias states that he never should have come, and asks to leave. Oedipus asks him again, telling him that he is an enemy to Thebes if he refuses to help. Again Teiresias refuses to answer Oedipus, and Oedipus gets angry. Teiresias counsels him to look within himself before he blames others. Finally Oedipus angrily declares that Teiresias's silence implicates him in Laius's murder. At this Teiresias , fed up, tells Oedipus what he knows: "You are the cursed polluter of this land" (35). His words enrage Oedipus, who dares him to repeat them. Teiresias obliges, saying "the killer you are seeking is yourself" (36). Again Oedipus goads him, and he elaborates: "you are living / In sinful union with the one you love, / Living in ignorance of your own undoing" (36). Full of fury, Oedipus now calls Teiresias a "shameless and brainless, sightless, senseless sot" and again accuses him of conspiring with Creon (36). Again Teiresias vows that the enemy Oedipus seeks is himself. Continuing to mock Teiresias, Oedipus now charges him with fraud, using the Sphinx's riddle as proof. If Teiresias is a seer, then he should have been able to solve the riddle. But instead Oedipus was the only one who was smart enough to do so. So much for Teiresias's gifts! Now the Chorus tries to step in and calm Oedipus down. Teiresias tries one last time to show him the truth, saying "have you eyes / And do not see your own damnation? Eyes, / And cannot see what company you keep? / Whose son you are? I tell you, you have sinned -- / And do not know it ­ against your own on earth / And in the grave" (37). He predicts the future: Oedipus will be more hated and more scorned than any other man. Oedipus orders him to leave. As he goes, Teiresias repeats his warnings and his predictions, saying "he that came seeing, blind shall he go; / Rich now, then a beggar; stick-in-hand, groping his way / To a land of exile; brother, as it shall be shown, / And father at once, to the children he cherishes; son, / And husband, to the woman who bore him; father-killer, / And father-supplanter" (38). Oedipus goes back into his house.

The Chorus reflects on what Teiresias said, but does not understand it, saying that it chooses to think that Oedipus is innocent until proven guilty because he has done such good for Thebes. Creon enters, asking the Chorus if what he heard is true: if Oedipus has actually accused him of treason. The Chorus tries to calm him, telling him that Oedipus was overwrought when he said these things. Oedipus comes out and repeats his accusations against Creon, and the two argue heatedly. Creon tries to reason with him, asking him why he would choose to give up a stable and happy life with a third of Oedipus's estate for an uneasy rule. He tells Oedipus to test him by asking the Pythian oracle if his message was true, and if Creon comes out guilty, Oedipus can sentence him to death. Oedipus continues to argue with him, and eventually Creon charges him with ruling unjustly.

Jocasta enters, and the men tell her the gist of their argument. She begs Oedipus to believe Creon and to be merciful. The Chorus joins in her pleas, and reluctantly Oedipus lets Creon go. Jocasta questions Oedipus, and he reveals Teiresias's prophecies. Jocasta comforts him by telling him that no man can see the future, and she has proof. She relates the story of the prophecy an oracle once made about Laius: that he would be killed by his own son. But that never happened; instead Laius was killed by robbers at a place where three roads met. And as for the son, Jocasta and Laius let their infant be exposed on a hillside with a pin through his ankles to prevent the prophecy from coming true. If Laius's prophecy didn't come true, she says, then why should Oedipus's? But her mention of the meeting of three roads troubles Oedipus, bringing back memories of a murder he committed long ago at a similar place. He asks Jocasta what Laius looked like, and her description matches his memory. Oedipus now begins to suspect that Teiresias's words were true. He asks Jocasta how many men were with Laius, and she tells him there were five ­ the same number of men that were



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